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In the months up to Christmas 2007, Théâtre Royal de la La Monnaie has mounted Mozart's Mitridate, with Bruce Ford, no less, in the title role; then Purcell's Dido and Aeneas with Sarah Connolly as Dido and Deborah York as Belinda, followed by (last month and this) Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto, overseen by the brilliant and energising René Jacobs, whose stupendous version in Brussels of Eliogabolo (Cavalli) is to be emulated by Grange Park Opera in 2009. This Giulio Cesare included Lawrence Zazzo as Julius Caesar and countertenor Dominic Visse, another La Monnaie favourite, in the lesser role of Nireno. All three productions set the tone for a thrilling and challenging 2008 season. The involvement of the trio of Jacobs, Marc Minkowski and Christophe Rousset in the activities of La Monnaie guarantees that the quality of Early Music performance in Brussels will be second to nowhere in Europe.

Mozart's 'Mitridate', conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, with Jeffrey Francis (Abrate), Bruce Ford (Mitridate), Mary Dunleavy (Aspasia) and Myrto Papatanasiu (Sifare). Photo © Maarten Vanden Abeele
Mozart's 'Mitridate', conducted by Mark Wigglesworth, with Jeffrey Francis (Abrate), Bruce Ford (Mitridate), Mary Dunleavy (Aspasia) and Myrto Papatanasiu (Sifare). Photo © Maarten Vanden Abeele

De Munt's newest foray into early opera in 2008 will be Cherubini's Medea, which runs from 12 April until 2 May, with Les Talens Lyriques conducted by Christophe Rousset, plus direction and décor by the Polish team of Krzysztof Warlikowski and Malgorzata Szczesniak. Tenor Kurt Streit, who sang Adolar in La Monnaie's concert performances of Weber's Euryanthe, returns to sing the role of Medea's lover, Jason.

La Monnaie's first opera this season, another nod to the ancient world, was a world première. This was a teasing, eye-beguiling presentation (a coproduction with the Staatsoper unter den Linden, Berlin, where the title role was created by Magdalena Kozena) of Hans Werner Henze's brand new opera Phaedra, the splendid Maria Riccarda Wesseling assuming the title role in Brussels, plus John-Mark Ainsley as the equally doomed Hippolytus and Marlis Petersen as a shivering Aphrodite. Much of the action took place not on stage (where a weird, mysterious and tragicomic minotaur lurked), but amongst the audience itself. Another special feature was the introduction of the thrillingly incisive Ensemble Modern to play Henze's glowing, sensual, Sixties-evoking score.

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Copyright © 17 February 2008 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK

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